There's very little about cooking that doesn’t involve chemistry, physics, biology, or even math. But don’t tell your kids that. Sneak education into your kitchen with these 10 experiments, gathered from the websites of creative teachers and parents.
1. Corncob Popcorn Experiment
Technically, you can learn this lesson with your average depressing old bag of microwave popcorn. But using a cob of popcorn and a paper bag adds a little bit of class to the whole operation. The experiment is simply done: cob, bag, microwave, and a hundred little starch fireworks.
Fun Quotient: Any kid knows food that has to explode before you eat it is the best food.
Lesson Taught: Lots, really. First, kids can learn that of the four types of common corn, only one kind—which is actually called Popcorn!—will pop, off the cob or otherwise (it’s the only one with a hull that’s just the perfect thickness for explosions). Popcorn explodes because each kernel has a perfect drop of water inside it. Your microwave quickly raises that water to the steaming point, and the pressure of the steam rips open the hull and inflates the starchy mush inside.
2. Edible Amber Fossils
The likelihood that prehistoric monsters will be cloned from DNA stuck in amber is pretty slim. But this experiment is good way to get your little monster started down the path of manipulating nature in ways no man was ever meant to.
Fun Quotient: Stuffing slimies into jiggle-goop, then eating.
Lesson Learned: Amber is the gold of archeology. This experiment, where kids “fossilize” gummies in gelatin, helps parents explain how amber can preserve prehistoric creatures in ways more delicate than any other form of fossilization.
3. Rock Candy Geodes
Rock candy on a stick? You call that kid science? Let’s see some style! Combine chemistry and geology lessons at once and make delicious rock candy geodes, as shown by this video at How to Cook That.
Fun Quotient: Pretty edible rocks inside non-pretty edible rocks. Something for all tastes. Plus, lots of mashing and squishing.
Lesson Learned: Supersaturation! Rock candy forms because you’ve dissolved so much sugar into your water that it can’t really hold it all. So, the water evaporates, the sugar precipitates, and tiny crystals of sugar cling on to one another until you’ve got a delicious geode. It’s also a good way to study the non-edible kind of geode, where crystallization happens much the same—except with minerals dripping into the hollow space of a lava bubble over millions of years. Well, sorta the same.
4. Edible Earth
Science has yet to prove that the earth’s core is not made up of gooey marshmallow crunchies. Take advantage of this shortcoming to teach your children about earth layers, via rice krispie treats.
Fun Quotient: Let’s see. Frosting, sprinkles, krispie treats, and a molten core that looks a little bit disgusting. The only thing missing to make it kid heaven is a giant trampoline to bounce on while you eat it.
Lesson Learned: A great way to show the proportions of our earth’s interior. And it offers some philosophy, too: In the grand scheme we’re only but a thin layer of frosting, and Mt. Everest is nothing but a sprinkle.
5. Eat a Dandelion
Fun Quotient: Holy cow you can eat these? I specifically remember getting in trouble for eating things I found in our yard. This is a new birth of freedom.
Lesson Learned: Children learn plant anatomy (and how much of our diet is actually either a leaf, root, or seed), how food exists outside a grocery store, and how to ask Dad three times that he’s absolutely sure he hasn’t sprayed pesticide in the side yard yet.
6. Making Butter and Whip Cream
Just because it’s something people have been doing for thousands of years doesn’t mean it won’t be a fresh, new concept to your kid.
Fun Quotient: Mess made via electric beater.
Bonus: Highly lickable.
Lesson Learned: Emulsion! You’ve whipped so many air bubbles into your cream that the fat globules are sticking together and forming tiny protective coverings over the air pockets. But what if you don’t add extra air and just knock all those fat globs around together? They start to clump into the delightful fat-spread we call butter.
7. Eat a Candle
This one might be slightly more fun to do for the kids before you do it with them. Because it will make them think your constant threats to go mental have finally become real. All you need is an apple, a nut, and some gum.
Fun Quotient: At first, not apparent. Why is Dad making me watch this candle burn in a dark room? But then, after you blow it out and pop the whole thing into your mouth, it will become their favorite sleepover staple.
Lesson Learned: First, in science you can’t assume anything. Second, nuts burn, because they are full of oil, which is fire food. Third, never trust the old man. He’s shifty.
8. Jell-O Laser Optics
You know how your eyes work? They work like Jell-O. And this experiment will prove it.
Fun Quotient: The laser pointer alone is enough to fulfill the fun criteria. Add knives and Jell-O, and you got yourself a party.
Lesson Learned: Jell-O has the awesome distinction of both allowing light to pass through, and having enough tiny solid bits inside to reflect the light. So you can see what path light (the laser) is taking when it hits the Jell-O. The more interesting shapes you cut your Jell-O into (concave and convex especially), the more different paths the light will take.
9. Treasure Hunt the Iron in Your Cereal
What does “fortified with iron” really mean? Are you really eating iron? Grab a magnet and some industrial strength cereal and find out.
Fun Quotient: Well, buying the chocolate kind of fortification is a good start. Plus there will be pulverizing.
Lesson Learned: We eat metal, the very same metal inside rocks and rusty gates. We have to, in fact, because our bodies don’t make it and we need it to carry oxygen through our blood. Also, a chance to learn that just because a sugary cereal boasts healthful looking additives on its box doesn’t make it healthy.
10. Homemade Marshmallow Chemistry
Matter is neither created nor destroyed; it’s just rearranged—in this case, from powder and liquid into puffy dollops of happy.
Fun Quotient: All the best of kitchen science: Boiling stuff, electric mixer-ing, greasing, powdering and slicing!
Lesson Learned: Molecules like to stay together. But when you use extreme heat to pull them apart, and then introduce a whole bunch of new molecules to the party, everyone has to find new buddies. The end result is often marshmallows.